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  1. #1
    daniel nantell's Avatar
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    Default Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    What is the best way to describe the low ceiling in some old homes that someone decided to put a couple of bedrooms and bathroom in basement with ceiling height of 5 or 5 1/2 feet. Would that be a Safety hazard because of someone hitting their heads, I hit mine 2 or 3 times trying to inspect the basement. thanks for any info.

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  2. #2
    chris mcintyre's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    IRC requires a minimum of 7' for a ceiling height, unless it is a sloped ceiling.


  3. #3
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Quote Originally Posted by daniel nantell View Post
    What is the best way to describe the low ceiling in some old homes that someone decided to put a couple of bedrooms and bathroom in basement with ceiling height of 5 or 5 1/2 feet. Would that be a Safety hazard because of someone hitting their heads, I hit mine 2 or 3 times trying to inspect the basement. thanks for any info.
    I would tell my client that they are nor legal bedrooms and should not be used as living space in any way, shape of form, and that if they were buying the house based on the house being a "xxxx sf 5/2" they are really only buying a "xxx sf 3/2" for the same price ... that leaves it up to them to decide if they want to pay that much for a smaller house with fewer bedrooms, but *I* would have done my job by advising them of that.

    Then I would point out that the bedrooms not only not legal, but probably also not permitted (you can probably bet on that and win the lotto) and that using those rooms as living space, especially as bedrooms, is inviting disaster, which is spelled 's-o-m-e-o-n-e d-i-e-s' ... followed with "*I* have told you this, *I* do not want any survivors to be calling me telling me that I should have warned you about that, *I* *AM* *WARNING* *YOU* *ABOUT* *THAT*.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Quote Originally Posted by chris mcintyre View Post
    IRC requires a minimum of 7' for a ceiling height, unless it is a sloped ceiling.
    And then it still requires a minimum area with 7 feet and a maximum area of less than 7 feet.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    I have a blanket statement that I put in a lot of older home reports about stairways, walkways and elevates surfaces. I say the conditions are unsafe and should be corrected.

    Of course, I realize this is rarely done (afterall, I doubt anyone is going to raise a house 6" on my recommendation so the basement has clearance) but it's off my plate.

    At 6'4" I'm particularly sensitive to "head knockers" in older homes and call them out regularly.


  6. #6
    Robert McAvoy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    I am a first time home buyer and the house my wife has settled on is listed as having a full unfinished basement that is framed and ready for someone to finish. However, the ceiling is not even 6 ft. tall. I am disappointed because we're not buying a whole house, we're really buying half a house. There is no way that we can have people over and entertain in that "basement." Is there anything that can be done, short of raising the house, to give any extra height in that waste of space? Thank you for any information that you can provide me.


  7. #7
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Lower the floor. It was just covered late this past year in the Journal of Light Construction. It's not easy, but it turned out beautiful for the clients. Almost the exact same situation.

    Jim Robinson
    New Mexico, USA

  8. #8
    Robert McAvoy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Robinson View Post
    Lower the floor. It was just covered late this past year in the Journal of Light Construction. It's not easy, but it turned out beautiful for the clients. Almost the exact same situation.
    Thank you, Jim. I am new to all of this and this website has been a wealth of information. I'm sure that this isn't the forum for new home owners, but I'm just trying to start somewhere. If you had to ballpark cost, what would you say something like that would go for?


  9. #9
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Robinson View Post
    Lower the floor. It was just covered late this past year in the Journal of Light Construction. It's not easy, but it turned out beautiful for the clients. Almost the exact same situation.
    That is a real risky proposition as you are playing around with fire with removing the soil supporting the foundation wall footings and by lowering the lateral supporting-the-foundation-walls floor to below the foundation wall footings.

    A definite not-a-DIY-but-engineer-and-really-good-contractor job ... and even then risky if not done properly.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  10. #10
    chris mcintyre's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Robinson View Post
    Lower the floor. It was just covered late this past year in the Journal of Light Construction. It's not easy, but it turned out beautiful for the clients. Almost the exact same situation.
    Quote Originally Posted by Robert McAvoy View Post
    If you had to ballpark cost, what would you say something like that would go for?

    Here is the link to the article Jim was talking about if you are interested (you may have to sign in to access it).

    JLC Online - Article - Adding Under

    BTW the cost for this project was 120,000.00


  11. #11

    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Tell it like it is to low, recommend having a contractor evaluate and repair as needed.


  12. #12
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Quote Originally Posted by chris mcintyre View Post
    JLC Online - Article - Adding Under
    BTW the cost for this project was 120,000.00
    OK, jack the house up a foot and a half, it will be cheaper and better than digging down.

    I understand that when you dig down, you leave a berm of undisturbed soil all around the footings, so there's a permanent ledge there. PITA
    Raising is less likely to lead to moisture problems, gives you more room and allows for larger windows. A house moving contractor can jack 'er up for you in a couple a days. A masonry chimney makes it a challenge, may be better to tear it out and go with a new metal unit.

    Oh yeah, don't consider digging down till you know what's under the house, could be bedrock.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
    www.allsafehome.ca

  13. #13
    Bob Garza's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Robert,
    I had some foundation repair work done on my home a few years back.
    I shopped around with various contractors check with American Foundation 847.381.6050.
    They had the best price of all.I was very impressed with them and they did a great job.
    They also dig out basements.
    Best of luck.


  14. #14
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    Default Re: Re; Old homes with low basement ceiling.

    Digging out basements to meet minimum ceiling height requirements is very common in Chicago. Been there, done that. You need min 7' finished ceiling height.
    Typically going down up to 12" can be done at relatively moderate cost because of original construction. Once you get to about 12" or beyond, costs tend to rise significantly due to other issues.
    In older Chicago construction, the footing is typically somewhere up to a foot below your existing finished floor. Could only be 6" or could be a foot. It is highly unlikely it will be deeper.
    Depending on how deep you need to go, you may need to pour additional footings, retaining curbs or just a new floor.
    Up to and beyond 12" you also tend to run into sewer pipe. Once again depending on depth you may or may not have additional cost in sewer work. Chances are you will have sewer cost though. Once the floor is open, you'll likely want to install new stubs for a potential bathroom. Again existing hubs will have to be lowered.
    If it is a low basement it probably doesn't have sufficient light/vent either. You'll need to add windows. In the City, those windows must be at or above grade. Below grade are not allowed.
    Other items:
    - new footings for existing posts
    - assess ground water condition once concrete is removed and floor dug down, installing drain tile and a sump pit is recommended
    - egress door and stairway alterations
    - damp proofing
    Plans and Permits are required for this type of job. You could get by without if your neighbors really like you but I wouldn't recommend it.

    www.aic-chicago.com
    773/844-4AIC
    "The Code is not a ceiling to reach but a floor to work up from"

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